President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell’s Remarks

Thank you for your leadership, Dean. When you graduated from Marlboro in 1976, you didn’t know we were never letting you go.

Welcome to this celebration. After a long, long winter, the lilacs did not blossom on time—but you graduates did: post-Plan, after Orals, in your creative regalia and various states of elation and fatigue. Whatever your state, take an appreciative look around you.  “commencing” the rest of your lives, this moment is for farewell and gratitude.

Gratitude for the musicians who marched us into this ceremony. For the podium party—accomplished scholars and artists who offer their wisdom. For the relatives and friends who cheered you on the way to this resounding present.

I thank the board of trustees, who contribute so much to uphold Marlboro College—please stand to be recognized.

College is the place where you find what you care about and how you learn; it’s where you find a mentor. That’s what your faculty became. They recognized you, tested you, then saw you meet the goals you set for yourselves. Let us thank your mentors.

Among them is Jim Tober, economist and environmentalist, who came to us fresh from his doctorate at Yale and stayed, with Felicia and the family, through generations of students and numerous calls to serve, twice as dean of faculty. He is retiring after 41 years.

Carol Hendrickson, anthropologist, author, artist, served as mentor and leader, also a dean, for 25 years. She influenced numerous students on their course of action; when I meet her former students, they tell me they are who they are now due to Carol.

We say fond farewell to Abdelhadi Izem, our Fulbright Arabic Fellow, who brightened our pathways, and even learned to ski them this winter.

Today you also say good-bye to so many caring staff, who in your Marlboro years helped and befriended you.

It’s hard to characterize a class at Marlboro and you defy any generalizations. You didn’t all enter together in 2010. Some of you are graduating after two intense years at Marlboro; some after six, nine, 14 years. What stories, what triumphs you all represent.

You are as young as 21 and old as 45. You include two veterans, a sibling of a graduate, a married couple, a son of a professor. You come from London, Peru, California, and Vermont. You helped build the greenhouse; you served on Selectboard. Four of you earned our Certificate in Nonprofit Management and five the TESOL certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

You took out an average of 52 books a year from the Library. The national average is 12. Columbia University students check out 45. Of course our data are probably skewed by Kate and Daniel’s omnivore reading habits.

Thirsty-six percent of you had an international education, traveling to China, Costa Rica, India, Australia and other places, alone or with faculty. You put Marlboro in the top 100 colleges for study abroad.

It was quite a year, wasn’t it? The year of the endless winter, when it was still 6 degrees in early March. But you put on your boots and kept walking right through the April snow storms. You were tenacious; you possess fortitude.

It was the year of the logo, and the preservation of the dormant—not dead!—1951 tree in the oval. The year of marketing—you were bold in your insistence that Marlboro be portrayed authentically.

The year of debate about what “shared governance” at Marlboro means; who shares what with whom? You were seriously persistent. Let me tell you what 2012 graduate Drew Tanabe, who now works for Vermont’s Senator Leahy, just wrote to me: “…you and I have at times sat across the table in opposition…and at others times worked together side by side…the ability to oppose and cooperate is truly a gift….”

The year of strategic planning. Whether making sure we included the farm, or accessibility, or social justice, you demonstrated your force of conviction. It’s not surprising that “grit”—that ability to push against our limits—is one of the nine Marlboro ideals noted in the plan, which faculty expect you to acquire.

The year you spent in the Plan Cave, overcoming your doubts. You changed your work after critiques, crossed disciplines, and designed your own curricula.

This spring, I watched you face your fears and dig deep to finish. What struck me most? Three qualities you demonstrated: the bravery with which you took risks—intellectual and creative; the courage you showed presenting your work and yourself in front of the rest of us—so exposed, so powerful; and the intensity with which you cheered each other on.

By now, you’ve guessed my theme: you are strong.

It started when you applied to Marlboro. In his book, Why Teach, Mark Edmundson, writes about “The Corporate City and the Scholarly Enclave.” He says most of you experienced the “corporate city” education in your high schools—“production centers that kids check in to every day... And what they produce are credentials.”

And the scholarly enclave? It’s harder to recognize. Even in its “most ideal….Somebody’s got to keep the books and pay the bills.” It’s where we are stalwart about our commitments to writing well, to time in the lab, the studio and the library. The residents of the enclave, he says, “are aware of the enormous gap between what humans aspire to and what remains to be done.”

Whether you saw Marlboro as the community where we negotiate our differences, the secular sanctuary, or the creative laboratory, you were brave to choose it: going against trend, making sacrifices to stay, knowing you’d be challenged and changed. That takes courage.

The corporate colleges claim to encourage students “to take risks.” Where else, but on this creative campus, do faculty intentionally teach how to learn from failure?  

To paraphrase writer Annie Dillard, I saw you “jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”

As Pearce wrote in his Student Sourced Viewbook, “Letting the student make mistakes in order to learn is a crucial part of what makes the Marlboro education meaningful….”

Those risks in the presence of others resulted in your sitting here today, stronger for that effort.

Take these remaining moments together to reflect on what you’ve accomplished: the risks as well as the praise. Know that you possess the skills you need to thrive. The world needs what you know how to do: write well, solve problems creatively, see others’ perspectives, master knowledge, set high expectations for yourself and others.

Take courage:  you will leave this scholarly enclave, this beautiful village on the hill, and as the Psalmist said, “go from strength to strength.”